Dan seeks inspiration for the design of his new pasta shape, a process that includes an epic pasta tasting and a chat with an architect who points him to a very radical concept. But after a meeting with a pasta maker, Dan learns exactly how much these big ideas will cost him.
If you missed Episode 1, check it out right here.
This episode features:
- Evan Kleiman, host of the radio show and podcast Good Food
- George L. Legendre, author of Pasta by Design
- Philippe Starck's pasta shape
- Chris Maldari of the pasta die manufacturer D. Maldari & Sons
Original theme music by Andrea Kristinsdottir. Interstitial music in this episode by Black Label Music:
- "Morning Blues" by JT Bates
- "The Cantina" by Erick Anderson
- "Lowtown" by Jack Ventimiglia
- "All Black" by Erick Anderson
- "Mellophone" by JT Bates
- "Talk to Me Now (Instrumental)" by Hayley Briasco and Ken Brahmstedt
- "Iced Coffee" by Josh Leininger
- "Marimba Feels Good" by Stephen Sullivan
- "Narwhal" by Casey Hjelmberg
Photo courtesy of Dan Pashman.
CLIP (DAN PASHMAN): I’m just gonna go ahead and say it. Spaghetti sucks.
CLIP (DAN PASHMAN): Thank you. Yeah, yeah. Oh? I said it.
Evan Kleinman: Previously, on The Sporkful’s Mission Impastable...
CLIP (DAN PASHMAN): We are embarking on the most ambitious project in Sporkful history. We are going to set out to invent a new pasta shape.
CLIP (EVAN KLEIMAN): I think this is a fascinating project and I think it’s going to be so much harder than you imagine it to be.
CLIP (MAUREEN FANT): I think pasta is just fine. I’m not going to encourage anyone to invent a new pasta shape.
CLIP (EVAN KLEIMAN): Have you met with a pasta engineer yet? What do you like eating? Are you thinking of a long shape or a short shape?
CLIP (DAN PASHMAN): I haven’t gotten that far.
Dan Pashman: This is The Sporkful, it’s not for foodies it’s for eaters, I’m Dan Pashman. Each week on our show we obsess about food to learn more about people. Welcome to part two of Mission ImPASTAble. My quest to invent a new pasta shape, actually get it made, and actually sell it. If you haven’t heard part one, please start there! OK, let’s get into it..
Dan Pashman: After my trip to North Dakota and my deep dive into the Encyclopedia of Pasta, I have a new assignment. It comes from my pasta fairy godmother, Evan Kleiman, host of the public radio show, Good Food, and expert on Italian cuisine.
Evan Kleiman: Go to the store and buy every box of pasta of a different shape you can. Bring them all home and look at the however—50 boxes, 60 boxes?
Dan Pashman: Evan says, try all the shapes you can find and look for patterns.
Evan Kleiman: Do you like ridges? Or do you like things to be, as they say in Italian, lisce? You know, smooth?
Dan Pashman: No I don’t like smooth. Who wants smooth? You need maximum surface area. You need high surface area to volume ratio, for both sauceability and toothsinkability.
Evan Kleiman: So, see? You already know a lot of what you like.
Dan Pashman: It’s true, I’ve got a lot of opinions about pasta. But I’ve never really brought them all together in a methodical, scientific way. I need to isolate variables. I need to catalog attributes. Ruffles and ridges, tubes and curls, long and short. Then I think I have to talk to more experts to find creative new approaches, to inspire my design. And then I need to figure out how to actually get this shape made. OK, that may be getting ahead of myself. First, Evan’s assignment: Eat a bunch of pasta shapes, and ask myself this, which ones do I like.
Dan Pashman: So, Ron, my friend and neighbor can introduce yourself, please?
Ron Fan: Hi, my name is Ron Fan, friend and neighbor of Dan Pashman. Also, stay at home dad/chef.
Dan Pashman: You are a professionally trained chef.
Ron Fan: Last time I checked, I was a professionally trained chef
Dan Pashman: You went to culinary school?
Ron Fan: I did go to culinary school.
Dan Pashman: You have cooked in impressive restaurants in New York City.
Ron Fan: Impressive enough.
Dan Pashman: Impressive enough for this podcast.
Ron Fan: Yes.
Dan Pashman: It’s Summer 2019. Ron and I stand in my kitchen next to a pile of pasta boxes and bags. And I have to try them all, you know, for research. As I do, I’ll be judging them by the three criteria I’ve come up with for evaluating all pasta shapes. Say it with me. Forkability.
Person 1: Forkability!
Person 2: Forkability!
Dan Pashman: How easy it is to get the pasta on the fork and keep it there? Sauceability
Person 1: Sauceability!
Person 2: Sauceability.
Dan Pashman: How well does sauce adhere? And the most important, toothsinkability?
Person 1: Toothsinkability.
Person 2: Toothsinkability.
Dan Pashman: How satisfying it is to sink your teeth into it? Now, I want to be scientific about this process, so I need each pasta to be cooked the same, with the same ratio of salt to water, so I’m only evaluating based on shape. That’s where Ron comes in. He brings a scale to weigh the salt, and a professional grade two-gallon plastic measuring vessel.
Ron Fan: A big cambro here
Dan Pashman: I bring the pasta.
Dan Pashman: Here’s what we’ve got here. Let's just—We have pappardelle, which is the wide flat one. That's a classic. Love that one. We have mafalde.
Ron Fan: Yes.
Dan Pashman: Mafalde is sort of like, if you imagine a flat noodle like fettuccine, but with ruffles added added along the sides.
Ron Fan: Yeah.
Dan Pashman: The list goes on and on…
Dan Pashman: Busiciate. This one’s called vesuvio. This one is called trumpets. It's shaped sort of like a bugle.
Dan Pashman: I went to specialty stores all over the New York area to find obscure shapes. I even had my parents bring me back some from their trip to Italy.
Dan Pashman: Creste di Gallo. This one looks like a large elbow macaroni.
Ron Fan: Yeah.
Dan Pashman: But around the perimeter, there's a ruffle edge attached to it, which, to me, is reminiscent of the back of a stegosaurus.
Ron Fan: Maybe it's the rooster? The gallo is a rooster? Yeah?
Dan Pashman: Oh, yes. Right.... A hundred percent. The ruffle looks like, um, it looks exactly like that. You're right.
Dan Pashman: Now it’s time to cook.
Dan Pashman: Water going into the pan.
Ron Fan: Dan, this is such a weird test.
Dan Pashman: Why?
Ron Fan: It just seems so arbitrary? What do you—what are you doing this for?
Dan Pashman: I want to invent a new pasta shape.
Ron Fan: Is that what it is? You're inventing a new pasta shape?
Dan Pashman: Did I not tell you that?
Ron Fan: No.
Dan Pashman: I really buried the lead.
Ron Fan: All right. Let's do this. And this new shape, I feel like I'm part of something important now.
Dan Pashman: You are? Now you're excited, Ron?
Ron Fan: Oh, yeah. Let's do it. Bring it on.
Dan Pashman: We’ll come back to the test kitchen, a.k.a... my kitchen, in a bit. But first… Since I started on this journey, everyone from my boss to my wife, Janie, to the people at The Pasta Lab in North Dakota have told me this whole project is a mistake. There are no new shapes to be created. The pasta historian, Maureen Fant, she flat out said she would not encourage anyone to invent a new pasta shape. But i just don't feel like these people are thinking outside the box. I need help from someone who approaches pasta from a non-traditional perspective, someone who can help me think about things a little differently.
George Legendre: Yes, George Legendre. I am an architect and an academic.
Dan Pashman: George has an architecture office in London and he teaches at Harvard. Most important for our purposes, he wrote a book called Pasta By Design, in which he analyzes pasta shapes through the lens of design and architecture. Each page has a different shape, rendered like an architectural drawing with complex math equations that describe it. In other words, he’s not a chef, or a historian, or even Italian. He’s an outsider in the world of pasta, just like me. First off, I ask George to tell me his favorite pasta shape.
George Legendre: And I like fusilli for instance because they’re quite thick. Cook them with a reduced white wine...some cream.
Dan Pashman: Oof. A rough start. As I tell George, fusilli’s spiral shape cooks unevenly. The edges are soft and the center strip is hard.
George Legendre: It’s true that it’s being thicker, that it does tend to cook with different rates. But you see I like pasta al dente anyway, so I would hope that the core is a little bit crunchy.
Dan Pashman: A bit of textural variation can be great, but crunchy? I’m starting to doubt George’s credibility. But then he saves himself…
George Legendre: I don’t like the angel hair, the very thin ones…
Dan Pashman: Okay, we agree on our hatred of angel hair. We can proceed. We get to talking about the design of my shape. In particular, about how to maximize sauceability.
George Legendre: It’s all physics. The more, let’s say, indented or crenulated, or the least smooth it is, the more likely it is to both hold the sauce and possibly retain it.
Dan Pashman: Aha! Just what I told Evan earlier, now, confirmed by science.
Dan Pashman: What do you think the world of pasta needs? What’s missing?
George Legendre: Nobody knows. No one knows because the canon of pasta is open. In other words, no one knows what the full set of options are. We keep discovering new shapes and experiences. So it's a great thing to approach, you know, with a slightly modernist mindset, with the look for simplicity and cleanliness and building up on what is effectively already there.
Dan Pashman: I feel like there's one approach in designing a new shape, which would just be like, let me think of the most different radical out there concept. Blow people's minds. Show them something they’ve never seen before. The problem with that is that, I mean, first of all, there is some wisdom in the current pasta canon. And the other thing is that pasta is a comfort food. If you create a new pasta shape that is so weird and different that it doesn't feel at all familiar to people, I don't think it's going to be as satisfying.
George Legendre: Yes, the canon of pasta is quite unforgiving in that sense. Like have you ever seen the pasta by Phillipe Starck?
Dan Pashman: Phillippe Starck. He's like a famous designer, very famous designer? I mean, is that right?
George Legendre: Philippe Starck is the most famous designer in the world.
Dan Pashman: [LAUGHS] OK. Well, that's why you're the design expert. All right?
George Legendre: And you are the pasta man.
Dan Pashman: George explains that years ago, Phillippe Starck invented a pasta shape. I google it while we’re talking. It’s a short tube, where the inside, rather than being hollow, has a single wave across the center, so that when you look into the tube, the cross-section is almost like a yin-yang, or like the Pepsi logo. I had never heard of this pasta.
George Legendre: So you see, this is a celebrity pasta. And my point is that celebrity pastas haven't caught on.
Dan Pashman: Yeah, this shape looks like an overly elaborate gimmick. Now, I don’t want to make a gimmick. But there is one aspect of Starck’s shape that catches my attention. These two mini tubes, that he stuck on the outside of the main tube, one on each side. Starck calls these the wings. They look like two short bucatinis. With these little wings, Starck has essentially fused two pasta shapes together. I make a note of that concept. From there, my conversation with George gets even more philosophical. He starts talking about the design of all kinds of everyday objects.
George Legendre: Look around you. Just pretty much everything is angular, straight, flat.
Dan Pashman: Your computer, your desk, your chairs, your books. Angular, straight, flat is what we’re used to. And?
George Legendre: ...you know, after a few hundred years, a matter of taste. And we are all now accustomed to walking on flat floors, for instance, you know, which we don’t have to take for granted but we do it because it’s convenient and proven, if you like.
Dan Pashman: You're saying we only walk on flat floors because it's convenient?
George Legendre: Presumably, yes, and it's also a matter of taste. We have...
Dan Pashman: A matter of taste? Who wants to walk on slanted floors all the time? That seems like just bad, bad planning, bad design.
George Legendre: It's not as ergonomic. But of course, you can just reflect on that. There was a society for the amateurs of flat floors and they created an installation that the architectural association here in London, where they just created an oblique floor on which people could walk and somehow reflect on the differences.
Dan Pashman: George admits he’s exaggerating to make a point, but I get it. We take basic elements of design, from flat floors to pasta shapes, for granted. We get used to things the way they are. And after a while we stop questioning it. For instance, George points out, even though the world we live in is angular, the pasta world is almost all round, flat, and blobby.
George Legendre: And there is a very simple litmus test that you can make. Have a look in the canon for a pasta that has a right angle.
Dan Pashman: He’s right. I can’t think of a single shape where two walls of the shape join at a right angle. The closest thing George has found is another one of his favorites, trenne. It’s like penne, a short tube, but instead of being round, it’s triangular. A triangular tube.
George Legendre: So this is the only individual in the canon of pasta that I know of, the one that stands out because it is angular and plain.
Dan Pashman: Does it have ridges on the outside?
George Legendre: I don’t think so.
Dan Pashman: Well, they should add ridges. That would make it better. Anyway, so George, to bring it back to your floors and this idea that there are these design elements all around us that we take for granted, my main takeaway from our conversation is this: Sometimes a very small change to something that we consider very basic can make a huge difference.
George Legendre: That's right.
Dan Pashman: And so it may be that the pasta shape that the world needs, the pasta shape I want to create does not involve going to the edge of the universe and back, does not involve some incredible new technology. It just involves looking at the world of pasta a little bit differently. It just involves slanting the floor.
George Legendre: Yes. Absolutely. It's an open canon that's inviting, that's expanding, and the mutations of the existing shapes are obviously a continuous process. Yes, they're continually improved at various stages of their existence. I'm sure. Yeah. This is a really great way of looking at it.
Dan Pashman: I like the idea of thinking about thinking about mutations. Maybe the name of my past will be the mutantini.
George Legendre: Yes, you may want to talk to your marketing people.
Dan Pashman: OK. I’m feeling really good now. I think I understand my mission. I do need to break free from tradition, bring a new perspective. On the other hand, I want to keep the essential elements of pasta that we all love. I don’t want to create the most extreme, outrageous shape just for the sake of it. I’m not interested in making some Instagram-ready sensation, the next cronut or rainbow bagel or Black Tap milkshake, with all the candy pouring out and the piece of cake on top. You know what’s better than a milkshake with a piece of cake on top? A milkshake with a piece of cake on the side.
Dan Pashman: I don’t want a gimmick. I want a legitimately great pasta shape that will stand the test of time. The other day, I was reading an article about Thomas Edison. You know, he didn’t actually invent the light bulb. He just made it better. In fact, he didn’t think of his work as inventing. He called it perfecting. That’s what I wanna do. I wanna bring the best features of pasta together in a way that’s never been done before. In a way that’s just better. So really, I’m not inventing a new pasta shape. I’m perfecting one.
Dan Pashman: Coming up, the perfecting begins. And, I start to run into serious problems. Stick around.
+++ BREAK +++
Dan Pashman: Welcome back to The Sporkful, I’m Dan Pashman. Hey, after this episode, I hope you’ll scroll through our feed and check out some of our other recent shows. Last week I tried to figure out if super premium vodka is actually better. We even made our own bathtub vodka and sent it to a lab to see how it compares to Grey Goose.
Dan Pashman: Before that we talked with actor, Kumail Nanjiani, and his wife and creative partner, Emily V. Gordon. We discussed Kumail’s decision to radically change his diet and transform his body, for a role. In that one they open up about their own struggles with body image issues.
CLIP (KUMAIL NANJIANI): And like when I was 10-years-old, if someone showed him that picture and was like, hey, someday it's going to be like you're going to look like this, for a small, small percentage of your life? I'd be thrilled. And I'd be like, oh, my God, great. He's got it all figured out. Well, he doesn't.
Dan Pashman: Plus, Kumail and Emily discuss how they respond to people who worry that Kumail’s new body means that he’s changed. All those episodes are up now wherever you got this one. If you listen in Spotify, please click Follow. In Apple Podcasts, Subscribe. In Stitcher, Favorite. Thanks.
Dan Pashman: Now, let’s get back to my kitchen, where I’m with my friend, chef Ron. We’re joined by a crew of volunteer tasters: my wife Janie, my kids Becky and Emily, and Ron’s son, Declan. The kids are all running around screaming. We’ve got pots heating on three burners at once. Ron has carefully measured the water. He’s weighed the salt. We have an assembly line set up with a stack of bowls and forks, so as shapes come out of the pots we can eat and evaluate, eat and evaluate. We’ll try each pasta two ways; with just butter and parmesan, and with meat sauce. Looks like it’s gonna be another tough day at the office...
Ron Fan: What do you wanna do first?
Dan Pashman: You pick, you pick one.
Ron Fan: Uhhhh, man. Alright you know what? This one’s easy. Let’s go with the pappardelle.
Dan Pashman: Pappardelle, the wide flat one, it’s a classic.
Dan Pashman: We get the pappardelle cooked up…
Dan Pashman: All right. We're going to taste these now. This is the first batch. Pappardelle with meat sauce, pappardelle with butter. Becky, you going to try some too?
Becky Pashman: Yeah.
Ron Fan: Here you go first.
Becky Pashman: You, too. It’s very hard to fork. Not very good forkability. Is that even a word?
Dan Pashman: It is now. So the pappardelle, I love the toothsinkability of it. When you have it with the meat sauce, it requires a little extra work to get meat sauce in the bite...to get pieces of meat.
Ron Fan: Yeah.
Dan Pashman: Now I know that traditionally pappardelle is served with, like, a wild boar ragu, with bigger chunks of meat, so you get the wide flat pasta on your fork and then stab the meat. But I always find it’s hard to nail your meat-to-pasta ratio and get a manageable bite on the fork. It’s good, but flawed.
Dan Pashman: From there, the pace picks up.
[SOUND OF POTS AND PANS]
Dan Pashman: Every couple of minutes, another shape is ready for testing, and soon we have piles of cooked pasta everywhere. We’re standing around the kitchen island just going from one shape to the next...
Dan Pashman: Right, the whole shape is recoiled.
Ron Fan: Not forkable at all.
Janie Pashman: The shape just kinda looks fun.
Dan Pashman: There is something about it that’s appealing though so can we isolate...use those elements in a different shape. Oh,my younger daughter Emily joins us now. Hello Emily!
Emily Pashman: Hello.
Dan Pashman: Do you want to eat some pasta with us?
Emily Pashman: Yeah.
Dan Pashman OK. Ron try one of these, tell us what you think.
Ron Fan: When you bite into it, it’s kind of like a spring...
Janie Pashman: Maybe it’s for kids.
Dan Pashman It’s not as sauceable as I thought it might be.
Declan Fan: I wanna talk into that.
Dan Pashman: I’m feeling good about the testing, I feel like I’m isolating pasta qualities that I like, narrowing down options. And Janie, Ron, and I agree that one shape stands above the rest, mafalde, also known as mafaldine.
Dan Pashman: This remains a fantastic shape.
Janie Pashman: It's really good.
Dan Pashman: I have had mafalde before, but not for a while. Picture a long flat noodle, like fettuccine. But then along the edges, the whole length of the strip, there are ruffles. You could sort of think of it like lasagne, flat with ruffles on the edges, except much narrower, so you can twirl it on your fork.
Dan Pashman: You get the toothsinkability of a long pasta wrapped around a fork but then the ruffles...having this many ruffles around the edges adds so much just pleasing texture. It’s so much more going on in your mouth when you eat it.
Janie Pashman: I think I realize that I like a long pasta because it's kind of like playful. It reminds me of your childhood when you're like twisting it on the fork.
Ron Fan: I kind of like the ruffles. It just kinda dances in your mouth a little bit. It’s very nice.
Dan Pashman: So I have reached two major decisions. First, I want a long shape. I think Janie’s totally right that there’s a nice nostalgia factor with long shapes, they’re fun to eat, and when you get a big ball twirled around your fork you get a very toothsinkable bite. Also, almost every long shape is just long and flat or long and round. Not much variation. I think long shapes have more untapped potential.
Dan Pashman: Second decision? I want ruffles. So really, I want the mafalde to be my base canvas and I’ll build from there. I’d like to add ridges, I think I’ve made my preference for ridged shapes pretty clear. Those have more surface area so they’re more sauceable.
Dan Pashman: So we have a mafalde, long flat pasta with ruffles along the edges. But instead of the center strip being flat, it has ridges. That’s not the shape but it’s a start. Everything seems to be coming together. But before the test kitchen shuts down for the night, my 9-year-old Becky hits me with this.
Becky Pashman: How are you actually gonna advertise a new pasta shape and lots of supermarkets to sell it? What if the supermarket people who chose what the supermarket sells doesn't even heard of you?
Dan Pashman: I’m over here having philosophical discussions about slanted floors and then eating 10 pounds of pasta. But as Becky reminds me, that’s the easy part. I want to actually get my pasta made. I want it to be real.
Dan Pashman: In my months of research, I’ve learned that to make pasta, you need a die. The die is essentially the mold. It’s the thing that turns the dough into the shape. Once I have a die, I can bring it to a pasta company to get my shape produced. And to get that die made, there’s one person I got to talk to...
Dan Pashman: So in the fall of 2019, I reach out to Chris Maldari, who runs a company that makes pasta dies. I invite him to our recording studio in Manhattan to chat. He says if I want to talk, I got to come to him. Which for me involves a commuter train, a subway, a Lyft, and a boat. Because Chris lives on Staten Island, one of the most suburban, and remote parts of New York City. Still, I would not be deterred. I set sail for Staten Island.
[BOAT FOG HORN]
Dan Pashman: Chris meets me at the door of his house. “I used to be 6’8’”, he tells me, “but I’m getting shorter as I get older.” I don’t know, he still looks 6’8” to me.
Dan Pashman: How did you get into this?
Chris Maldari: I was born into it.
Dan Pashman: Chris runs D. Maldari & Sons. It’s been in his family since 1901, when his great-uncle, an Italian immigrant, started manufacturing pasta dies. As I said, the die is basically the mold for the shape. It’s like, remember the Play Doh Factory? You push the Play Doh through a hole that's shaped like a star? The dough comes out in a star shape. That piece of plastic with the star-shaped hole? That’s the die. Whatever shape the die is, that’s what the dough comes out like. Pasta dies work the same way.
Dan Pashman: But designing and manufacturing pasta dies is a very specialized skill. Even most big pasta companies don’t do it themselves. Maldari & Sons has been making pasta dies for a hundred and twenty years. Chris and his brother took over the company after their dad passed away. They’ve worked on dies. They make all the classic shapes. But that’s just the beginning…
Chris Maldari: So like, you know, something like this we've done—you could see that in the store it’s SpongeBob. I mean, really, you should know that.
Dan Pashman: Yeah. No, no. I could tell was SpongeBob.
Chris Maldari: And you know who that is, right?
Dan Pashman: Is that Lucy from Peanuts?
Chris Maldari: See! He's unbelievable. Now, what about that?
Dan Pashman: I know what that is.
Chris Maldari: You sure?
Dan Pashman: Yeah. That's not safe for work as we would say.
Chris Maldari: OK. So, you know, what's funny about that is we had a company that wanted to make it. We couldn't find a manufacturer because they were afraid—one of these slips in with the kids, you know, SpongeBob mac and cheese? It's a problem...
Dan Pashman: Anywho... In recent years, there’s been a lot of consolidation in the pasta industry. In 2018, D. Maldari & Sons joined up with a company that had been one of their main competitors: De Mari Pasta Dies, in northern Massachusetts. Together, they’re now the go-to company for designing and manufacturing pasta dies in America.
Dan Pashman: The mac in the blue box of Kraft mac and cheese? They make the die for that. The noodles in Campbell’s chicken noodle soup? Same. If you’ve eaten dried pasta in the U.S., there’s a very good chance it was extruded through one of Chris’s dies.
Dan Pashman: So here's what I'm doing, Chris. I am setting out to invent a new pasta to shape and to actually get it made and to actually sell it.
Chris Maldari: Right. OK. That's what we do.
Dan Pashman: Chris knows what kind of shapes might be possible, and he knows the industry. If I can get his approval on my concept, this will be a huge vote of confidence to producers that this whole idea is actually viable. So as is my custom, I tell Chris about my three criteria for judging all pasta shapes, you know ‘em by now. And he has some ideas for maximizing those attributes.
Chris Maldari: If you want to get into sauceability, let's talk about the difference between pasta made through a die that has Teflon coating and just brass. Years ago, dies are made out of just brass or bronze because they didn't have the technology yet for Teflon. And the pasta, when you dry it, would come very rough and a darker color. The sauce sticks to it.
Dan Pashman: As I tell Chris, I’ve seen extreme close-up photos of pasta made with a bronze die, and the surface looks like sandpaper. That roughness makes it more tactile, stickier, so sauce adheres better. But Chris says creating that rough surface also creates dust, just like when you sand wood. Which is fine in small batches but the big industrial pasta makers can’t handle that much pasta dust in their factories when they’re making 10,000 pounds an hour. Their machines would clog.
Dan Pashman: A Teflon die, on the other hand, makes the pasta super smooth and yellow. That means sauce doesn’t stick as well, but it also means no dust. And you can extrude dough through teflon dies faster, so you can make more pasta per hour. For these reasons, the big pasta companies that make the standard pastas at the supermarket? They almost all use Teflon dies. But Chris says...
Chris Maldari: If you went to Italy, they want the...
Dan Pashman: The bronze die.
Chris Maldari: The bronze die.
Dan Pashman: Absolutely, that’s gonna be more surface area, the sauce is gonna adhere to it better.
Chris Maldari: Right.
Dan Pashman: I think I want my pasta to be made with a bronze die.
Dan Pashman: Now that that’s decided, I tell Chris about my initial working concept for the shape. I tell him it’s just a starting point. He says, yeah, there’s already lasagne with ruffles down the edges and ridges in the flat part. (I pretend I already knew that.) So he says, sure, all we have to do is make that lasagne shape but narrow.
Chris Maldari: It could be done. Um...it could be done.
Dan Pashman: What do you think of it as a starting point, assuming that I'm going to add, you know, another twist or two?
Chris Maldari: Um…I'm gonna be honest because you seem like a nice guy and I don't want to send you off into the abyss. Um, I don't think it would be enough to have people say, wow, look at that different pasta. You know, you'd really have to come up with something that is not even in the realm of having been done before. I hate to burst your bubble.
Dan Pashman: That’s not exactly what I wanted to hear, but like I said, the shape is still a work in progress. In terms of actually getting the thing made?
Dan Pashman: What would I need to give you for you to be able to make that prototype? I mean, like, do I need to do any blueprints? Do I need the 3D renderings? Describe it to you.
Chris Maldari: Money.
Dan Pashman: Chris explains how it works. I give him a hand drawing, he’ll turn it into a computer diagram. From there he makes the die, which we can use to make some test pasta. Then he'll tweak the die as needed. He says if everything goes smoothly, it should cost about five thousand dollars.
Dan Pashman: OK, I tell Chris, let’s say we move forward. Then my plan is to take my die to a pasta company and partner with them to make it. I’m not gonna start leasing a warehouse and buying equipment. I want the smallest initial run possible, to control costs and minimize risk. If it takes off, we can always make more. Chris says he thinks the very least any company would make is 5,000 pounds. Dried pasta is usually sold by the pound, so that’s 5,000 boxes.
Dan Pashman: I tell Chris, I’m hoping the pasta company will cover the cost of making those 5,000 pounds, and of course share in the profits if there are any. And that is where Chris says I have an issue.
Chris Maldari: Here's the problem. The problem is that instead of having, you know, 40, 50, 60 family companies across the country, you know, maybe you have 10 super-factories. All these companies have been bought up and all closed down. And now you have huge corporations that own those brands. Approach one of those companies with a new shape. That's just not the thing that they do.
Dan Pashman: Right. I guess, I'm hoping to find a mid-level company. There will be some small enough that they would want to partner and be excited about the possibility, but big enough that they can crank out some pastas.
Chris Maldari: There aren't any.
Dan Pashman: Chris says no company is gonna want to partner on such a small run. There are places that’ll make the pasta for me, but it’ll be a white label situation. They make it, I put my label on it. And I have to pay the full cost of the production up front.
Chris Maldari: And I think what you have to do… I don't mean... I don't want to get all philosophical here… but you have to search the need to make a new pasta. Is it something you just always wanted to do or is it a business move that you want to look to make money?
Dan Pashman: Um…
Chris Maldari: Be honest.
Dan Pashman: I want to like my own pasta shape. I...if I'm not excited to eat it, then what the hell am I doing? And so first and foremost, I wanted to be something that is fun, that is true to me, and that makes me happy to eat it. And that I can share with people. And if it doesn't end up becoming a massive business success, I'm OK with that. I would really like to not lose money when all is said and done. But if I can make something that I'm really happy with, and share it with the people who are interested in sharing it, and create a little enthusiasm enough to pay back what it costs to get the shape made? I will consider that a success. And I can tell my grandkids about the pasta shaped I invented.
Chris Maldari: OK, so I want to give you a beautiful analogy. All right? When I was, I guess, 15, 16, 17. It was the inception of the VHS. And I was just amazed by this thing that you could record and everything. So I really got into recording old sitcoms and then editing the commercials out and then from there, you know, it grew a little bit. And I was in college and I wanted to go to school to become a director. And I switched to NYU. And I was so overwhelmed by these people that knew so much more than I did that I chickened out, went back to the family business and switched back to Wagner College. So this has always been in me all these years. And I started five or six years ago writing. I got an idea for a screenplay. And I can analogize this to your desire to come up with your own pasta shape. To me, finishing this screenplay, and of course, my hope would be that somebody would buy it and I'd be going to a red carpet event. And it's to really just fulfill my need, my desire to do this. I'm kind of seeing you in the same thing, fulfilling your dream of making a pasta. The only problem is that in order to do it, there's a financial investment for you. So it's harder for you to fulfill your dream. And when you have two kids, it really is a tough one.
Dan Pashman: Yeah.
Chris Maldari: I'd probably say, if you were looking—if your end goal was to get 5000 boxes of dried pasta in your dream shape, right? Between all the experimentation and then getting it done, you're probably looking at 25 grand.
Dan Pashman: It really never occurred to me that I’d have to lay out that kind of money. That night, after we put the kids to bed, my wife Janie and I sit together on the couch.
Dan Pashman: So, I went today to meet this guy who makes the dies, basically like the mold for a pasta shape. And he wanted to be supportive, but he was just like poking holes in everything that I was saying. I’m just feeling very discouraged. I feel like maybe this is stupid.
Janie Pashman: So what did he think was one of the problems?
Dan Pashman: I mean, number one, he thinks it has to be really really different from anything anyone’s seen. He also… e doesn’t think that any pasta company is gonna want to partner with me to make it. So, he estimated that if I don't get a pasta company to partner with me on this and I just have to pay for the production of the entire initial run out of pocket, that it would cost twenty to twenty-five thousand dollars total.
Janie Pashman: And where is this money coming from? Our kids’ college savings? I don’t think that's a good idea. I don't think this is something that we should invest our own money in… You know, I want you to do—you know, I think it is something exciting and passionate for you. But I guess, like, you know, we should talk to some more people who actually think...who might know if this is something that is possible. This guy, obviously, doesn't think it's a great investment.
Dan Pashman: I’m sitting there on the couch and I’m not even sure I know exactly why I feel so down. It’s just pasta, right? But if you’ve listened to this show at all, you know I’ve always been someone with strong opinions about food. I’ve missed exits on the highway because I was thinking about the best way to dip a tortilla chip.
Dan Pashman: People who’ve known me a long time can’t believe I’ve turned this annoying quirk into a career. But for all of my opinions about food, I’ve never actually made anything. Sure, I mess around in my kitchen but I’ve never had a chance to put my opinions about a food into practice and share it with the world to see if I’m right. This pasta project feels like the test of every food opinion I’ve ever had. Do I actually know what I’m talking about?
Dan Pashman: But like, what if...you know, sometimes the things that take off are just the thing where a person just did what felt right to them and didn't make decisions based on trying to sell the thing. They didn't make decisions based on the market. They just followed a vision and made something special. Like, what if I just….What if I just make the shape I've always wanted? Like, my perfect shape and just follow that dream and maybe people will respond to that? And then what if it sells a lot? Like what if it becomes a huge thing?
Janie Pashman: Yeah, I mean, that's the ideal. That’s what we hope would happen. And if you had to invest five hundred dollars to see if that would happen, that’d be great. But I mean I don't think $20,000 is something we could do right now.
Dan Pashman: Or ever.
Janie Pashman: Yeah.
Dan Pashman: Next week, in part 3 of Mission: ImPASTAble, I attempt to pick myself up, dust myself off, and find a pasta company to help fund this project. Someone who’s eager to partner with me.
CLIP (STEVE): If you want to work with someone, go work with them. That’s totally fine.
Dan Pashman: I make my first trip to a pasta factory:
CLIP (DAN PASHMAN): Oh it smells like pasta in here
Dan Pashman: And, I keep refining my shape.
CLIP (CHRIS MALDARI): Giving you some profanity, it looks like a cluster [BLEEP].
Dan Pashman: Then later..a breakthrough
CLIP (STEVE):There’s nothing like it. I gotta say it was kinda cool to see.
Dan Pashman: Part 3 of Mission Impastable drops next week.
Dan Pashman: If you want to make sure you don’t miss the rest of this series, please connect with our show in your podcasting app. In Spotify, hit Follow. In Apple Podcasts, Subscribe. In Stitcher, Favorite. You can do it right now while you’re listening. Thank you.a
Dan Pashman: And if you want to see photos of me and Chef Ron testing pastas in my kitchen, along with a bunch of other highlights from this series, follow me on Instagram @The Sporkful. I’m putting tons of Mission: ImPASTAble goodies there.